Drive-in Movies

Drive-in Movies

They may be disappearing from the landscape one-by-one, but drive-in movies certainly aren’t forgotten. Enormously popular in the 50s and 60s, there were few places that could compete with the local drive-in when it came to a great place to take a date – mainly due to the privacy that an enclosed theater just couldn’t afford. They were also popular with families, providing an affordable night out on a hot summer’s night.

The first drive-in movie opened in New Jersey in 1953, the brainchild of Richard Hollingshead, a man who had made a respectable fortune in the chemical industry. He conducted experiments in his driveway at home, utilizing a radio, a Kodak projector, and a white screen nailed between two trees. When he was pleased with his results, he applied for, and received, a patent.

His idea caught on, and soon, outdoor theaters were popping up all over the United States. In 1941, RCA developed the speaker system most remember from the early days, which offered individual volume controls and proved a vast improvement over the speaker towers previously in use (which were loud, and delivered the sound with a noticeable delay).

By the 60s, there were literally thousands of drive-in theaters dotting America’s landscape. Most included a better-stocked snack bar than your typical theater, complete with hamburgers, pizza, etc. There were usually playgrounds, which served to diminish some of that sugar-fueled energy from the youngsters, who would often fall asleep later in the backseat. Many parents, aware of this, dressed their kids in pajamas for the occasion.

As quite a few drive-ins charged by the carload, this proved to be an inexpensive form of weekend entertainment, especially since most places would show a double-feature, complete with a handy intermission so that the whole gang could make a visit to the snack bar, a memorable place in its own right.

Towards the end of the 70s, the drive-ins scattered across America began to shut their doors, partly due to a less-than-wholesome reputation they had earned over the years, partly because indoor theaters began making improvements to their sound systems, but mostly because of the vast real-estate they consumed. Today, most states only have a handful still in existence, often using the space for swap-meets during the daytime.

Have an urge to relive those drive-in days of yesteryear? Over at, there is a wonderful resource that allows one to look up the locations of existing drive-in theaters across the US.

When is the last time you visited a drive-in? What movies do you best remember watching at the drive-in? Did you even watch the movie? Share your memories of these disappearing icons with all of us at Retroland as we fondly remember the drive-in.

10 Responses to “Drive-in Movies”

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  1. sdsdrillbits says:

    This is such a nice place :)

  2. Deanna says:

    We still have a FANTASTIC Drive-In in Atlanta – The Starlight Six!

  3. Mick says:

    I remember going to my local Drive-In called The Skyways with my older (only) brother and my first cousin too see Kill and Kill Again and Kill Or Be Kill both starring James Ryan in 81. I also remember the concession stand was huge from a 7 year old point of view it had everything candy, gum, popcorn, hot dogs, pop. I was very angry when they close it down a couple years later to turn it in to a outdoor flea market and now a storage place.

  4. popcult69 says:

    I first visited a drive-in in 1978, the West End in Flint, MI…saw “Star Wars”, great flick! There were at least 200 or more people there, I remember staring at the giant screen, anticipating the movie coming on when it got dark.

    I’ve been to a few others, mainly the US 23 Highway Theater and Miracle Twin (featured on several drive-in sites); was last at US 23 last summer, saw “Angels and Demons”. They used to show some vintage intermission films, of snack bar items and wind blowing through open fields, from the 1970s. Wish they still did…

    I have a DVD of these, great stuff–they really take you back to the good old days. Would be nice if someone re-opened the closed ones (still standing), turned them into retro drive-ins, looking exactly like when they first opened. I’d travel the country to visit each one, make a documentary like “After Sunset”, but better.

    Long Live the Drive-In!

  5. Insidious says:

    The Solano Drive-in in Concord, California was just reopened a couple years ago after being closed down. It’s had great success, in fact they were able to afford all new digital projectors to upgrade the experience. The place is PACKED every weekend. I love it! I wish there would be a resurgence all over.

  6. we had 2, the miracle twin that closed and the 23,which is still open.

  7. kim maher says:

    Living in Florida, where the drive-in’s can basically stay open year round is one of the things that is an added bonus to

    not shoveling snow anymore. I’m on the west coast – not far from Tampa. There are still a couple of drive-in’s there, and

    there is one that is only a half hour away from me. My husband and I go often,, as the cost of watching 2 new released

    movies is extremely reasonable ($4 for adults & 99 cents for kids).Being able to see movies that cheaply And be

    comfortable in our car or on lounge chairs makes it almost as great as the whole nostalgic feeling you get from being

    there. The only thing that I did find disappointing was that they no longer have a kid’s playground on the site like those

    of my childhood.(probably due to insurance practices of our modern times-lol) I recently took the little girl that I watch,

    as she is six yrs. old and finally able to sit long enough to make it fun for her and me. Thought she would get a kick out

    of it, but, half way through the movie, she turned to ask me when we were going to go inside. I explained that we already

    went there for popcorn and a potty break and that was it- we got to enjoy the movie on a huge screen outside. She

    looked up at the screen – looked up at the stars – then at me and replied, ” Well, this is really pretty silly!” So much for

    me sharing the magic that I remembered..she did enjoy the experience once she accepted the newness of the whole

    thing. Glad I found such a great place to escape to to enjoy popcorn,candy, movies and memories. I wish everyone was

    as lucky as I am to have this treasure nearby!

  8. kim maher says:

    BTW ~ just in case you are near or perhaps headed this way for a visit ~ here is the info. for the above… Welcome to the Joy-Lan Drive In Theatre. We’ve been inDade City,Florida for over 50 years. In fact, we are the last drive in theatre inPasco County, but we are here to stay!

    The Joy-Lan often shows first-run movies. You’ll enjoy listening to the movie through your FM car radio, but we also have in-car speakers available on some rows. …
    This weeks offerings – Ice Age 4 and Snow White and the Huntsman –

  9. Jackie says:

    We have elm road drive in in nearby warren ohio. I’ve been going there since i was a kid. But sadly they might be closing.They need the digital projectors now, and very expensive. It’s $8 for adults for two movies, and $3 for kids 4 and over. Concession stand prices are not too high and you can buy a $5 permit to bring in your own food. Took my kids to see Brave And Madagascar 3. They loved it!

  10. Keith says:

    Some of my favorite movies of all time I saw for the very first time at our local drive-in theatre:

    -Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry
    -Smokey and the Bandit
    -The Great Waldo Pepper

    …to name a few.

    It would in fact be interesting just to see how much today’s young generation would warm up to drive-in theatres if they were brought back to its golden age.

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